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Monday, March 21, 2016

How to Make IT a Business Value Strategy

by Karen Wolfe 

“Not everyone can be an IT expert, but everyone can become an expert in how IT advances the strategies of their domain.”

“Has your IT (Information Technology) come out of the proverbial and actual basement to be an integral part of your business strategy? Too often business leaders task IT with an initiative and expect it to be delivered. End of story. The truth is, business owners must engage and own the outcomes of their IT investments, driving them to a strategic value that can be measured.”[1] 

IT strategy 
What is IT strategy? Think of any infrastructure initiative—building highways, public transportation, or urban development. Without the requisite strategic investment of time, funding, and planning, these initiatives face delays, cost overruns, diversion from desired strategy and failure. True partnerships between IT and business operations insures the best thinking of both that can be applied to a given situation to produce strategic results.[2] 

Business value 
IT should be viewed as a business strategy. Today, not a single discussion can be had in the Workers’ Compensation industry relating to claims management or medical management that does not include IT. As Workers’ Comp focuses on outcomes (both cost and quality) it is the only new strategy around. Moreover, it is the most effective and efficient strategy to achieve business goals. Six elements are necessary to generate business value by leveraging the IT strategy. 

1.    Define the project
Describing how the new technology or a data application will function is only the first step in integrating IT into the business strategy. However, defining it can be tricky. Remember, IT professionals talk a different language and appreciate different measures of success than those involved in operations. Business owners cannot assume their IT requests are understood as they were intended. Even slight misinterpretations of requests can result in frustration, cost overrides and a useless tool.

I recall one time early in my career I submitted specifications for a development project. I used the word “revolutionary” to describe the powerful impact it would have on the business. However, the IT person, being much younger and male, interpreted revolutionary in an aggressive, military sense, not even near to what I had in mind. Always verify understanding and clarify of all elements of the IT project. 

2.    Design for simplicity 
IT projects should be designed for simplicity of use. If the project outcome is complicated or requires too many steps, people will not use it. Design functions where the programmers do the work whenever possible, not the users of the function.

3.    Expected business value 
As a part of defining the IT project, define its expected business value. Both the business unit involved and IT need to align their expected outcomes. Not unlike evaluating ROI (Return on Investment), identify the financial investment and rewards of the IT project. Also, describe the anticipated collateral outcomes of the IT project, such as PR, business growth, or client involvement. Figure out how to measure the expected business outcomes when the project is complete.

Design the project outcome value measures at the beginning. Too often business leaders do not articulate their expectations of value and, therefore, can never prove them. If you don’t know where you are going, you could end up somewhere else.

4.    Commit resources 
Funding and other resources such as personnel should be allocated at the beginning. Short-shifting resources will guarantee less than satisfactory results.

Know from the beginning how the IT project will be implemented and who will do the work and be responsible for it. Establish accountabilities and create procedures for follow-up.

5.    Monitor progress 
Continuously monitor and manage the project, even throughout the IT development process. Discovering deviations from plan early minimizes damage and rework. Obviously, rework means cost and delay.

6.    Measure value
Once the project is accepted and implemented, begin continuous outcome evaluation. Execute the value measures outlined in the beginning. Make necessary adjustments and keep your eye on business value. 

Re-stating the central point, "Not everyone can be an IT expert, but everyone can become an expert in how IT advances the strategies of their domain. 

Karen Wolfe is the founder and President of MedMetrics®, LLC, a Workers’ Compensation, analytics-based medical management company. MedMetrics analyzes and scores medical provider performance and offers online apps that link analytics to operations, thereby making them actionable. karenwolfe@medmetrics.org

[1]Quammen, B. The Case for Healthcare Tech. Healthmgttech.com. March, 2016.
[2]  Ibid.

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